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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Sansbury

Popping our (Sailing) Cherry

We did it. We untied the dock lines and went out on our first sail since bringing her back up from NC nearly a month ago. And – here’s the part that we’re proud of – we did it SOLO. No extra deck hands, no one with a vast knowledge of sailing experience to coach us along, nada. And it actually went surprisingly well considering once we were out in the bay, we discovered that we didn’t have any auto pilot or GPS. Oh yes, the plot thickens.

Our first job, after getting untied was to travel a short distance, like literally 20 feet, to the fuel dock to fill up our tanks. In the event that we sucked miserably at sailing, at least we could motor for the day and still feel like we were accomplishing something. We called ahead to the dock master (we could have just shouted – we were that close), to let them know we’ were coming in so they could help us tie up. Getting on and off the dock is - in our minds at least - the trickiest part of boating. It’s never the same scenario since the wind speed / direction / current constantly alter the condition. In our little 22′ center console boat, not that big of a deal. In a 41′ catamaran… a little different story. In the end Matt did a great job jumping from one pier to the next. We did *nudge* the pier a bit, but that’s what the rub rails and fenders are for, right? No damage to either the boat or the dock, so we’re good!

After filling up, we headed out for the Bay to see if we could play around with the sails. We were comfortable using the genoa (the smaller sail in the front of the boat), but wanted to mess around with the main a bit more to get a better feel for how it worked. As soon as we got out of our creek and into the bay, we noticed that our Garmin wasn’t picking up a GPS signal, thus rendering it useless, and our auto pilot wasn’t working either. Ruh-Roh. Guess we should have checked to make sure these things were working before we left the dock. Duly noted for next time. However our wind gauge, which never worked, suddenly started working again. Weird. We could tell the wind speed and direction, but had not clue where we were actually going. Rest assured we didn’t throw all caution to the wind..we downloaded a Navionics app on both of our phones, so we could use that to navigate instead.

After getting our bearings (literally), we decided to try putting up the main. I took the helm and began to point us into the wind as Matt prepped the sail. Then I shut down the engines.... big mistake right there.

Trying to keep us into the wind so Matt could wrestle the sail out of the stack pack and avoid getting the battens all hung up in the lazy jacks with no help from the engines was a disaster! We were getting pushed all over the place without the help from the engines. We had NO CLUE we were supposed to turn the engines off after we raised the mainsail. We thought that, you know, you go out there and shut the engines off and just sail, right? Well, yes.... but you turn the engine off AFTER you raise the sail so that you can keep the boat pointed into the wind to raise the main with ease. Doh! The animated exchanges Matt and I were having during the whole process made me happy that there wasn’t anyone else there with us to share in the moment.

We did end up successfully raising the main, however, when we looked at our speed, we were actually going slower than we were before! Ha! All that work to actually go slower. I’m sure that we could have trimmed the sails more or maybe positioned ourselves into the wind better, but at that point it was more effort than we were willing to put forth. We said “Screw It”, lowered the damn thing, and happily continued on with our motors and our genoa up.

Because we had no GPS, we decided to stick to familiar waters and found ourselves back in our old stomping grounds of the Severn River. We stopped to anchor just off of an uninhabited stretch of beach and took the dogs ashore in the dinghy to use the bathroom and get off the boat for a bit. They didn’t know what to think during the morning sail session..let’s just say that they both handled the experience very differently. While Corona stretched out in the saloon or cockpit area, Yingling was nervously pacing around the boat trying to get comfortable. At one point we looked around and couldn’t find her! We thought she had fallen overboard and went into a semi-panic state of mind. Turns out she had somehow managed to get herself down into one of the hulls and was holed up in our bedroom. We’re not even sure how she got down there, but I’m sure it wasn’t gracefully. We’re thinking about getting her one of those thunder shirts that some of the other boat owners have told us about.

We decided to call it a day around 5 and headed back towards the marina. We had no issues setting or pulling in the anchor, which calmed even more anxiety in the back of our minds, since this is another one of those simple tasks that could go horribly wrong if you don’t practice. Speaking of things working out…the GPS and auto pilot stared working again on our way back in! Just like that. We didn’t do anything different, so not sure what was going on. We’re planning to look at that today to see if there was a loose connection or something. Definitely want that fixed before we venture out again.

As we were coming in, we called the dock master to see if someone could help us out with the lines. In true Sansbury style, always hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. Matt took his time and pulled her into the dock perfectly! Again, more anxiety was washed away upon completion. We just need to keep getting out there and practicing these things so we feel more confidant in our abilities. I like to compare this experience to learning to drive a car… there’s only so much you can read up on before your driving test… the rest is all about learning from experience. Now, we hop into our cars and don’t even think twice about our ability to drive (and when we do, we take a cab!). Hoping that we’ll feel that way about sailing soon enough.

Until then…

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